One of the most common culprits of mispronunciation must be brand names. When a brand is born outside of an English-speaking country, do we use the brand’s native language, an anglicized version, or something in between? Some brands anglicize their name right away to avoid any confusion, such as in the case of Italian chef Ettore Boiardi, who changed his name to Chef Boyardee so Americans would have an easier time with it phonetically. Of course, not every brand is as accommodating (nor should they have to be), so pronunciation pitfalls abound, from the aisles of the grocery store to fashion week runways, and everywhere in between.
This chocolatey hazelnut spread is beloved worldwide, and it has roots in multiple European countries, so the pronunciation is naturally debated. According to the Nutella brand, the pronunciation is something like “NOU-tella” with an emphasis on the “NOU” (which sounds like the vowel sound in “newt” in American English, using a hard “oo”). If you’ve been saying it incorrectly, don’t worry — in a recent poll conducted by the brand, 78% of British people were pronouncing it incorrectly as “NUT-ella.” Nutella was also adamant that it doesn't care how consumers pronounce the product name, so long as they enjoy it.
This German car brand has ended the debate once and for all — “Porsche” is a two-syllable word. While plenty of Americans drop the “e” at the end, the correct German pronunciation is “PORE-shuh.” It comes from the brand’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche. The German language has far fewer silent letters than English, a difference that resulted in the incorrect anglicized version. In a recent poll on brand-name pronunciations, “Porsche” was the second-most-mispronounced name — around 65% of participants were incorrect.
Beating out Porsche in the pronunciation poll was Givenchy — more than 70% of participants got the name of this French luxury fashion and perfume house wrong, making it the most-mispronounced common brand name. The first syllable causes American English speakers the most grief. The “zh” or “sz” sound is pronounced like the “s” in the word “vision” — there is no American “g” sound in this word. The ending is also softer than an Americanized version would be, ending in “shee” rather than a hard “ch” sound.
This one might be counterintuitive. “La Croix” looks like a French word, so it must be pronounced like a French word, right? Actually, it’s a Midwestern company, and the sparkling water brand stayed true to its roots when picking a name. It was first produced out of a brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in the 1980s, and the city name was combined with the name of the St. Croix River, resulting in a portmanteau of the two Midwestern locales: La Croix. The brand suggests remembering this by using a helpful saying: “La-CROY. It rhymes with ‘enjoy.’”
To add to the confusion, the French luxury fashion brand Christian Lacroix is pronounced “luh-KWAH.” It stays true to French phonetics, where “croi” produces a “kwa” sound, as heard in the word “croissant.”
If you’ve been saying “Let’s go to eye-KEE-ah,” you’re not totally out of bounds. While the anglicized pronunciation of the furniture store’s name is technically OK to use — even American IKEA commercials use it — the traditional Swedish pronunciation features different vowel sounds. The first syllable is “ee,” as in “need”; the second is emphasized and pronounced as “KAY,” as in “OK”; and the third ends in an “uh” or “yuh” sound.
Correct: Ralf LAUR-en
Incorrect: Ralf lau-RAWN
This pronunciation mix-up comes from a classic case of trying to put a fancy spin on a word that doesn’t require it. Ralph Lauren is an American fashion brand, and as such, it uses the American pronunciation of the name “Lauren,” with an emphasis on the first syllable. In contrast, some people add a European-esque emphasis at the end of “Lauren,” but this is incorrect, as Ralph Lauren himself uses the American style of his name.
Incorrect: FAH-gee or FAY-j
The Fage yogurt brand was founded in Athens, Greece, and its naming is twofold. First, the word “fage” (φαγε) is the verb for “to eat,” and second, the name “Fage” operates as an acronym. It stands for Filippou Adelphoi Galaktokomika Epicheiriseis (Filippou Brothers Dairy Company). With these Greek roots for the Greek yogurt brand, the pronunciation is “FAH-yeh.”
Founded by Franco Moschino, this Italian fashion brand has joined the long list of designer names that have been Americanized. In English, we often naturally turn the “ch” grouping into a “shh” sound, but in Italian, it takes the form of a hard “c” or “k” sound, so the second syllable is pronounced “KEY” (not “SHEE”).
Incorrect: HER-meez or HER-me
“H” is a silent letter in French when it stands alone as a consonant, so for this French luxury brand, go ahead and drop the first letter altogether. Typically, the “s” at the end would also be silent in French pronunciation, but the accent mark on the second “e” (called an “accent grave”) changes the pronunciation of the “e,” and therefore the “s.” The accent calls for the “e” to be pronounced like the vowel sound in the English word “net.” Because of this, the “s” is also softly pronounced.
Correct: sir-ROTCH-ah or see-ROTCH-ah
The trick to pronouncing this Thai chili sauce brand is to leave out the first “r.” As for the pronunciation of the first vowel, that’s up for debate. Some official sources, including Merriam-Webster and the Oxford Dictionary, say to pronounce the first syllable as the word “sir,” while in the Thai language, the first syllable is “see.” Both options seem to be acceptable for hot sauce fans, so long as that first “r” remains silent.
As confirmed by Donatella Versace herself, the correct pronunciation of this Italian fashion brand is “Ver-sach-EH,” with more of an “uh” or “eh” sound at the end (not an elongated “ee” as in “knee”). The fashion magnate explained the pronunciation of her family name in an interview with Vogue, putting an end to the discussion once and for all.
Featured image credit: vorDa/ iStock